x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Iran coach looks to Iraq for inspiration at Asian Cup

Just like in 2007, a title win could just be the adhesive the country needs, an optimistic Afshin Ghotbi says ahead of quarter-final clash with South Korea today.

Afshin Ghotbi, the Iran coach, is an optimist.
Afshin Ghotbi, the Iran coach, is an optimist.

Can football give a nation hope? Afshin Ghotbi, the Iran coach, believes it can.

He believes winning the Asian Cup would lift the spirits of the people of Iran, much the way Iraq's success in 2007 united its people during a time of turmoil.

"When the Iraqi people really needed to unite, the Iraqi team, in 2007, made the people happy, gave them hope," Ghotbi said. "Similarly, I think the Iranian people could use this championship as a source of inspiration.

"My players are very, very motivated for this challenge. We hope Iran on January 29 will hold the cup, not for themselves but for the people of Iran."

Iran has been a divided nation since the disputed presidential elections of 2009.

"I think that maybe the Iranian people need this championship because they are very capable people, they are intelligent people, they have tremendous history and culture," Ghotbi said. Maybe this championship can give them a sense of pride and hope so they can build their country and maybe have better lives."

Ghotbi, the son of a teacher, left Iran in 1977 at the age of 13 with his father and settled in Southern California. Two years later, the Shah was deposed in the Islamic Revolution and his country changed forever.

The young Ghotbi, however, was too busy to notice the events back home. He eventually earned a degree in electrical engineering from UCLA, where he was also played football.

He soon emerged as one of the elite youth coaches in the Southern California, and later worked with the South Korea team and the Samsung Bluewings. He was offered the Iran job in 2007.

Ghotbi, 46, did not hesitate, even though he had not visited Iran in 30 years.

Why did he not go back to Iran earlier then?

"Maybe part of it was destiny," he said. "I was working and I was busy. The other part, of course, is that after the Revolution, I did not have the Iranian passport. So it was difficult to go back to Iran. Now I have got an Iranian and an American passport now.

"The circle of life is really important. As you get older, you need to somehow rediscover yourself and going back to Iran after 30 years did that. There were some voids in my heart and in my memory and by going back I was able to really complete myself as a person.

"I feel very fortunate to do what I love to do - you see the world, you work with the people, you get to entertain people and maybe, for a few moments, help them forget their problems.

"My job ... has been very gratifying because I feel like I am giving the Iranian people a sense of hope, a positive self-image of themselves, the hope that they can achieve anything they want and not disrespect themselves as much as the world wants them to disrespect themselves."

arizvi@thenational.ae

Japan 3 Qatar 2

Japan – Kagawa 28’, 70’, Inoha 89’
Qatar – Suria 12’, Cesar 63’
Red Card Yoshida (Japan)
Man of the match: Shinji Kagawa (Japan)

A last-minute goal from Masahiko Inoha gave Japan a 3-2 comeback victory over Qatar in the quarter-finals yesterday. Inoha was on hand to side-foot into an empty net after Shinji Kagawa had broken the offside trap and drawn a challenge from hosts’ goalkeeper Qasem Burhan.

Uzbekistan 2 Jordan 1

Uzbekistan – Bakaev 46’, 49’
Jordan – Bani Yaseen 58’
Man of the match: Ulugbek Bakaev (Uzbekistan)

Uzbekistan advanced to the semi-finals for the first time by beating Jordan 2-1 after two goals by forward Ulugbek Bakaev within four minutes. Bakaev scored in the 46th and 49th minutes for Uzbekistan, before Bashar Bani Yaseen cut Jordan’s deficit in the 58th at Doha’s Khalifa stadium. Uzbekistan will play either Australia or Iraq in Tuesday’s semi-final.